Why can’t city and county recycle together?

Why can’t city and county recycle together?

As the deadline nears for the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (RSWA) to release its final report on its solid waste strategic plan, there is one idea that the head of the RSWA isn’t considering. It hardly seems controversial—consolidating curbside trash and recycling pickup in the city and county—but because of an 18-year-old agreement, it’s off the table.

Tom Frederick, the executive director of the RSWA, says that the 1990 organizational agreement between Charlottesville and Albemarle County states that the RSWA “is not to be in the business of collecting waste off the curb. We are more in the business of managing planning on the mission we were assigned in the agreement.”

The city currently contracts its curbside recycling program with Allied Waste. With the exception of newsprint, the county leaves curbside recycling up to individual residents. In an RSWA survey [pdf], county residents voiced strong support for a county curbside recycling program.


Officials aren’t enthusiastic about the idea of extending curbside recycling to the county’s urban ring around Charlottesville.

City councilors and county supervisors have expressed the need to work together towards sustainability. So why not combine the city and the urbanized county into one pickup program?

Aside from the prohibitions of the organization agreement, there are economic factors.

“There’s a concern there that by government action we can’t force the private contractors out of the business,” said Ken Boyd, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. “Personally, if we can get the private sector to do it for us at a reasonable cost, I’d much rather leave it in the private sector.”

Boyd does say, though, that having two separate collection systems in an area divided by an arbitrary border isn’t the most efficient setup. “We could do it much more efficiently as a combined body right now,” he says, “but we have different ideas about how to do it right now.”

While Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris acknowledges the city and county operate very differently, he wouldn’t be opposed to looking at collection in the city and county with an eye toward combining the two.

“I think it makes sense to look and see where we can find economies of scale and create a more efficient system,” says Norris. “If the strategic planning process points out the value of greater collaboration and combining both systems, I would be very open to that idea.”

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